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Something happened today that left me rather surprised. It was one of those powerful epiphanies that don’t necessarily change your views on things, but rather re-affirm and clarify what you already knew in such a powerful and clear cut way that it leaves you a bit shell shocked.
To set the stage – I got a call last night from my mom. She was interested in setting up her own account and giving Facebook a try. For the last year or so I’ve let both of my parents log in on my account to view my photos (especially trip photos while traveling) and periodic postings. We got her account set up fairly quickly as I answered several of her initial questions over the phone and before long she was making her way through her basic profile adding information and updating settings. I suggested a few friends and then left her to play with the site. While a traumatizing thought for a lot of young adults my age, that’s not the source of the revelation.
You see, my parents and I have an extremely close relationship. I typically call home on a daily basis as I make my 20 minute commute home from work and during the call we exchange ideas, reflect on the day, and brainstorm. They are both incredible mentors that I work and talk with on a regular basis. A relationship made that much closer by the 2 years we spent on the road together when my brother and I were younger – 1 year backpacking through Europe and another year R.V.ing across the US. To that end, we all know a lot about each other. They are as much parents as they are mentors, and as much mentors as they are friends.
So, you can imagine my shock when I checked in on my mom’s Facebook progress and found not one, but two pieces of information I had completely wrong about her. I’ve always thought that she received her masters in education similar to my dad’s doctorate in education as they have both been heavily involved in education for years. The reality is that her masters was in Planning and Community Development – an equally fascinating field but completely different than education, as I’ve spent the last 15 some odd years believing. The second revelation came in the form of a date. I always assumed, but had no real idea, she’d received her masters years before I was born. Here again Facebook set me straight. The degree pre-dated my birth by 2 years, not the 5-10 I’d envisioned.
I’ve decided to share these details with you, not because of their individual relevance, but because I believe it is a compelling illustration of the power of social networks as an informative tool offering insights into our friends, and even close family. Before yesterday, if you had asked me if I’d learn something new about my mom through her Facebook account, my answer would have been a confident “no”. Obviously, I was mistaken. Social networks can provide powerful insights into those we associate with and affiliate with. They collect, sort, and display insights into us that might otherwise never come up in casual conversation but are highly relevant to our relationships. A lot of the dialogue about Facebook and its impact focuses on how social networks connect us with people relationally (eg: 6 degrees of connection) but this experience has reminded me that social networks offer insights far beyond how we connect. They offer us insights into who we connect with as well.
Today I learned a bit more about one of the three people I’m closest to and it was through Facebook. What a surprising day.
Similar experiences? Thoughts? Please share them in the comments!